An Age of Rage


A few days ago , a few guys were travelling in an electric rickshaw at about 11 pm in the night. The driver , possibly to break the monotony of the hour had some loud music playing on his FM Radio. One of the passengers asked for the music to be turned off or at least toned down. The driver was hesitant. Soon an argument started, one thing led to another and then one man was lying dead . Stabbed to death on the road. It was not the driver playing the music. It was one of the passengers. How and why he got killed is difficult to fathom. But in an era of rage anything is possible.

We as a society have grown accustomed to people hurling abuses when someone overtakes his car while driving or beating up and possibly even killing someone for parking a car at the wrong spot or shooting dead two people for not turning the air cooler towards them. So much so that these incidents that have now become routine in many parts of the country and do not evoke any reaction or emotion. When an argument happens it proceeds unchecked and eventually blows are exchanged and a murder is committed. The whole episode can take often no more than some minutes.

Violent expression of rage seems to be a particularly North Indian phenomena. In my native Bengal, arguments can break out over petty reasons and quickly reach a fever pitch. Then they cool down like a volcanic lava which is past its prime. But there is seldom any violence, much less a man getting killed. In the West and the South , I have not personally seen or experienced street brawls although they must be occurring for sure.

Rage of course is an expression of pent up frustration. You don’t have access to the ones really responsible for the situation that you are in and so it expresses itself in unexpected moments on those most unable to defend themselves. Road rage is but one manifestation of this. The increasing numbers of cases of violence against women has also the same roots. Toxic masculinity manifests itself not just against women but also against children or any other perceived as being lower down in the social hierarchy.

There’s nothing new about anger. It’s as old as emotion itself. But anger usually remained buried in urban India, especially among the middle classes. Or it shows itself in sudden outbursts during riots and mob outbreaks, lynchings and destruction of public as well as private property. As for much of rural India, anger is forever blowing up into brutal violence, usually in the form of disputes over land or watering rights. These days over fissures in caste and religion.

In faceless urban societies these days it is more likely to be individuals rather than groups who demonstrate rage violently.There have ben at least some attempts to decipher the code. Many factors have contributed. For instance in the NCR area around Delhi as housing complexes, malls and airports and other infrastructure was developed, land was acquired from the farmers who had lived off the land for centuries and provided handsome compensation. The older generation did not change much.They continued to puff at their hookahs and play cards as their fathers had done before them. But the hunger generation suddenly found themselves with a lot of money on their hands which they had not earned and were possibly not even capable of earning looking at their education levels and entrepreneurial Initiatives. Soon ugly , badly designed multi story houses began sprouting in the urban villages where they mostly lived and Honda City and Duster SUVs began appearing on dusty roads where the cars were parked cheek by jowl next to open drains with sewer water. Infrastructure development has been reduced to pure economics – acquire land and pay compensation. The job is done. The socio demographic changes that will inevitably come about are nowhere in the radar of policy makers,

And so without any financial literacy taught or learnt, the new found wealth was something to flaunt ; not a treasure to invest and milk for the long haul. And of course the inevitable happened. The money eventually ran out and the lifestyle sustained on steroids came under threat. The expensive cars needed fuel. The hastily constructed buildings needed maintenance. But without the necessary education or skills, this lifestyle was not sustainable. The consequences were felt in two ways – expressions of rage and increase in crime rates.

Delhi tops all the crime charts of the country with 41% share of the total crimes committed, as per the Crime in India Data maintained by the National Crime Records Bureau and released in 2020. After all in a region that is known to be violence and crime prone, the easiest “skills” to acquire are those of robbery and murder. Besides , child rearing practices in the North seem to normalise aggression. If a child is aggressive, many parents take pride in it and ignore the consequences. They see it as being brave and encourage such behaviours by their children. If a child is not so forthcoming , the prompt from the parents is that they should be assertive and condone abrasive language and behaviour .

Today if we look around or even if we take a longish walk , or just read the newspapers , we will not miss the unparalleled levels of rage and violence all around.Nobody is spared.During the Covid waves , we saw doctors and nurses getting beaten up by irate patients when their loved ones died. Road rage takes several lives daily. We seem to hate everybody and blame everyone else for everything that’s going wrong on our own. If we look through the newspaper headlines, we will notice that most front page stories are about violence in some form or the other.

The sad thing is that though everyone is aware of the issue, no one is thinking this through holistically. The police think in terms of crime control. Numbers of FIR lodged, numbers of arrests, charge sheets filed, convictions obtained. Religious teachers sell Yoga or Vipassana as the panacea. Psychologists would prescribe counselling or some form of therapy . Legislators will pass new laws or amend old ones as happened after the Nirbhaya case( as much case of rape as also rage in its extreme) or the law being proposed to counter violence against doctors. But will such piecemeal approaches work when the culture of dominance and control is embedded in a society and is condoned and encouraged ?

Dr Shantanu Dutta, a former Air Force doctor is now serving in the NGO sector for the last few decades.


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